Research Findings

The following are highlights of Ending Homelessness for Families: The Evidence for Affordable Housing by Marybeth Shinn writing for the Homelessness Research Institute. The article has extensive national research documentation and comments are given with relationship to the city of Dallas, Texas.

The True Picture of Homeless Families

The normal picture of a homeless family will find them in their 20’s or 30’s with one or two children. The large percentages of these homeless families are women with children, which represents 47% of the Dallas homeless population. 23% of these homeless families are married. These families are less likely to have mental disabilities or have spent time in jail. They have usually have limited education with only about half having a high school diploma or GED. The homeless family is less likely to have substance abuse problems, but they like any family with economic challenges, experience levels of depression. They like lower income families are at a higher risk of being exposed to domestic violence. When homeless families are given the opportunity to live in safe communities with support services, they benefit greatly and become contributing citizens of the community.

Support services that help poor families with new children are a major factor in keeping young poor families from entering into the homeless rolls. Twenty-five percent of all poverty that begins in the United States begins with birth of a child. Young children in homeless shelters are a common trait and the risk of homelessness increase as children enter into preschool years, as their parents work to maintain their job and child care.

Barriers Keeping Poor Families in the Homeless Cycle

There are three challenges that keep homeless families from moving off the homeless rolls. They are: (1) Homeless families have extremely low incomes that average $418 per month (2) homeless families are less likely to have access to housing subsidies, and (3) the social network are not strong enough to assist families. Studies show that personal characteristics were not the deciding factor.

By working together, the Dallas Metro Homeless Alliance, Dallas Housing Authority, and the Greater Dallas Justice Revival is breaking down these barriers. Studies reveal that homeless families rely mainly on family, friends, and child support, before having to turn to shelters. The studies also reveal that the disparity in homeownership among wealthy citizens and poor has increased, as has income level, thus making it more unlikely that relatives of families in low income and poverty are able to assist their relatives to keep them from becoming homeless. Families from middle to upper income levels, generally have more resources for family members having financially struggles, thus keeping them from the homeless rolls. However, as the new statistics reveal (1,850 first time homeless individuals to the Dallas Homeless Population), even middle to upper income families are struggling to assist family and friends that are victim to the recession.

Studies show that in those regions of the nation where affordable supportive housing was available that homelessness decreased, and in areas where there was no affordable supportive housing available, rental vacancy rates low, and median rental properties high, homelessness increased.

Affordable Supportive Housing Assist Families to Leave Homeless Rolls Quickly

Studies in nineteen cities with homeless populations found that three quarters of families exited homeless shelters quickly when provided affordable supportive housing, and stayed out of shelter care thereafter. Another fifth of the families had longer stays from 187 to 552 days, depending on the city, and they like the first succeeded in accessing housing via the private or public sector, and remained in housing.

Both groups needed limited minimum intensive case management and other supportive services. Only 2 to 8 percent of those in the study needed intensive support services.

Additional Studies on the Role of Housing Subsidies Impact on Housing Stability

Housing subsidies help most families who exit homelessness to leave shelters and remain off the homeless rolls, with or without additional support services. In cities where they adopted a policy to place families in subsidized housing, the number of families who had been in homeless shelters previously dropped from 50 percent to 10 percent in three years, while another city homeless rate for the same category dropped to 6 percent after an average of 3.5 years, and in another larger study, only 7.6 percent returned after over a five year period.

Families who did not receive subsidies did not do well. Of those who left homeless shelters and made their own arrangements, one study showed that only a third of those were able to stay away for shelters for two years.

Studies also show that housing subsidies are a powerful intervention and help bring stability to housing. A study among first time shelter users, who were given housing subsidies, showed that 97 percent were in their own apartment and that 80 percent had been there from 12-35 months without a move. Some families who did move were due to poor building conditions, condemnation, and health hazards. The studies showed that better quality subsidized housing kept residents their longer.

Those families who did not receive subsidies to assist them revealed that only 38 percent moved into their own apartment and with 18 percent their longer than a year.

Finally, follow up studies reveal that formerly homeless people that received subsidized housing, and that there were fewer cases of mental illness, substance abuse, and panhandling where there was stable housing. Families, who received case management and support services, were also less likely to fall back into homelessness.

Keeping Working Families Off the Homeless Population Rolls

Working families who find themselves in the homeless categories usually needed short term financial help such as security deposits, first month rents, moving, and furnishings. In the city of Columbus, 80 percent of family shelters users were there an average of 33 days. The local community had one assistance program that provided short term financial services for private and subsidized housing, and another Family Housing Collaborative that provided financial services, subsidized housing, and transitional services that within three weeks of referral moved the families. Case management was a positive attribute in this city.

These programs of assistance were critical, as most low income families pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, usually in overcrowded apartments.

Communities that are pro-active in utilizing assistance programs, continue to have the most success in reducing the homeless population. In one Minnesota community, they stabilized and sustained families within six months. They had a rapid exit program, averaging $800 a month, and with a 88 percent success rate.

Chronic Homeless and High-Risk Families Succeed with Supportive Housing

Chronic Homeless or homeless families at special risk, which receive support services, are stabilized successfully. When families with chronic history of homelessness in a nine-city study were given Housing and Urban Development Section 8 certificates plus supportive services, their success rate was outstanding. Of those nine cities, six cities had programs that tracked the families’ success or failure. The result was 88 percent of 601 families remained in housing up to 18 months. In another study of 31 cities, 85 percent of chronic homeless that received Section 8 certificates and child welfare services remained in housing after one year, in spite of various differences in population, challenges, and services offered.

A study of extensive chronic high risk mothers from seven permanent supportive housing projects in San Francisco had excellent outcomes, with family stability for an average of 26 months in housing at the time of evaluation. Studies of other cities found high rates of retention of families remaining in housing in those cities as well. In another study of eight sites in which homeless families had high risk mothers with mental health or substance abuse issues, there were some beneficial outcomes of on-site mental health services for psychiatric and substance abuse problems. However, in the 15 month study, the deciding factor in success for all groups was housing stability.


The overwhelming amount of research available to date shows that housing subsidies are the primary support system needed to end homelessness. Healthy housing options and the community surrounding those being housed, is critical to a more healthy and transformational community. The success of these models, as in any community challenged with poverty, is the involvement of agencies, churches, non profits that will provide adult education, eployment services, child care and after-school programs, family counseling, financial assistance and counseling, and follow up care.

The remarkable program provided by The Bridge that assists the homeless community with medical, mental, and dental care, assures the success of affordable transitional and supportive housing. Resident services on site, only add to the already remarkable success seen nationwide.

Source: Homeless Research Institute, Ending Homelessness for Families, by Marybeth Shinn, with extensive national research from 47 sources.

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